High Impact Efforts: Using cohorts to support first generation students

High Impact Efforts: Using cohorts to support first generation students

Tyler L McClain

Assistant Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Recently, the Learn Forward team explored interventions designed to support cohorts of students who have demonstrated potential and leadership in spite of challenging educational and financial circumstances with Dr. Inés Maturana Sendoya. She provided direct examples of a high impact effort and gave tangible strategies to implement at all points of a student's academic career. Through the Boston College Options through Education (OTE) Transitional Summer Program she demonstrated how intervention promotes retention and success. She explored all aspects of the program and subsequent interventions to advance students through to graduation.

The Agenda

  • Institutional Challenges to Support First Generation and Low Income Students
  • Bridge Programs: Promoting College Success
  • Overview of Boston College
  • The Options through Education (OTE) intervention
  • Moving Forward

Institutional Challenges

Dr. Inés Maturana Sendoya discussed the many institutional challenges that exist to support first generation and low income students. Closing the graduation gap for students who come to college from these backgrounds provides its own challenges. Many efforts are made to retain these students after first year and help to prepare them for their entire collegiate experience. Providing adequate financial resources to increase their chances to earn their degrees is very important and something that Boston College has focused on. Additionally, it is very important to provide considerable support for these students as they transition to college and encourage engagement with campus life (Engle & Tinto, 2008).

Bridge Program: Promoting College Success

Dr. Inés Maturana Sendoya shared what the literature tells us about bridge programs and how Boston College has utilized this knowledge in their own program.

  • Help participants aspire to, prepare for, and achieve college enrollment and improve chances of graduating (Kallison, Jr. & Stader, 2012)
  • Target first generation, low-income students who may not be academically ready for college upon graduation (Kallison, Jr. & Stader, 2012)
  • Remediate academic skills deficiencies, provide information regarding college campus life, orient students to the institution’s culture, and develop self-esteem and a sense of efficacy (Allen & Bir, 2012)
  • Results in better grades, greater persistence, and higher graduation rates as compared to non-participants (Allen & Bir, 2012)

Major Components of Bridge Programs

  • Academic instruction
  • Tutoring
  • Study skills instruction
  • Mentoring, counseling, advising
  • High standards
  • Personalized attention
  • Adult support
  • Peer support
  • Strategic interventions

Boston College

  • Catholic, Jesuit Institution
  • Founded in 1863
  • Total Enrollment: 14,100
  • Ranked 30th by US News Rankings
  • 67% undergraduates receive financial aid
  • Undergraduate tuition, room, board and fees: $62,820
  • White: 63.1%; Asian: 11.1%; Hispanic or Latino: 10.9%; International: 6.1%; Black or African American: 4.4%; Two or More Races: 3.4%; American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0.1%; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.1%

Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center

The center supports the needs of all students, with a particular focus on AHANA, Multicultural and Multi-ethnic students. Whether it is meeting with a college counselor regarding academic success or getting involved in leadership activities on campus, the center provides a centralized resource to support overall student success. The center reports directly to Student Affairs with a dotted line to the Provost and is supported by 5 professional staff and 1 administrative assistant.

Pillars of the Center

  • Supporting AHANA, multiracial, and OTE students
  • Creating community across areas of difference
  • Facilitating racial and/or identity development or formation
  • Provide cultural competency education

Options Through Education (OTE) Overview

Historical Context

  • 1968 - 34 students from Negro Talent Search Program attended the Summer Orientation Program
  • 1979 - Summer Program renamed OTE, Academic Vice President approved college credit for OTE courses, Students took 5 courses
  • 2004 - Program expanded to include white students
  • 2008 - Comprehensive review of OTE resulting in operational improvements
  • 2009 - Celebration of 30th Anniversary of OTE


The mission of the Options Through Education Transitional Summer Program is to prepare the transition to Boston College for a select group of diverse students who have demonstrated potential and leadership in spite of challenging educational and financial circumstances.


  • To provide a community of support and resources to help students succeed at Boston College
  • To help students get acclimated socially to BC and build long lasting relationships
  • To help build academic abilities especially in the areas of math, English, critical thinking, public speaking, and study skills
  • To engage students in questions of cultural, racial, and ethnic identity development
  • To engage students in questions of spiritual development

“If it weren’t for OTE, I wouldn’t have met the upperclassmen who would become my mentors my freshmen and sophomore year. If it weren’t for OTE, I wouldn’t have been exposed to numerous resources and involvement activities offered at BC. Plain and simple, if it weren’t for OTE, I and countless other OTE alumni would not have had the privilege to attend BC.” —OTE Alum

General OTE Information

  • 40–45 students
  • Conditional acceptance pending completion of program
  • Free 6 week program and monitoring through graduation
  • Substantial OTE scholarship
  • Graduation credit for courses passed during the summer
  • Exemption from $500 enrollment confirmation fee


  • 1 Residential Coordinator, 8 Preceptors, and 3 Counselors
  • 4 Math faculty and 2 tutors
  • 4 English faculty and 4 writing fellows
  • 2 Interpersonal Communications faculty
  • 6 administrators

Admission Process Part I: Student Selection

  • Students with high need
  • Schools that have a low college going rate; high school drop out rate 50%
  • Leadership in the school or community
  • Letters of recommendation
  • First in their family to go to college
  • Ethnic and racial background (diversity)
  • Low admissions ratings
  • Recognitions
  • Other programs they have attended (College Bound, Bottom Line, college courses)
  • Academic rigor and grades (Honors, AP, IB)
  • Ability to persist in the face of obstacles
  • Demonstrated commitment to the community
  • Personal statements (what is the student bringing to B.C.?)

Admission Process Part II: Non-Cognitive Variables (NCV)

  • Positive Self-Concept

  • Realistic Self-Appraisal

  • Preference for Long-Term Goals
  • Successfully Handles the System

  • Availability of Strong Support Person
  • Successful Leadership Experience

  • Demonstrated Community Service/Involvement
  • Knowledge Acquired in a Field

Program Components


Student take four courses and have access to student support services; academic advising, tutoring, counseling, mentoring, writing support and supervised study hall. Students also participate in a variety of social components including; a retreat, weekend trips, workshops, weekly community meetings and various other social activities.

Academic Year

During the academic year support is provided through; academic advising, progress report review, a first year success seminar, Benjamin Elijah Mays Mentoring Program, summer tuition remission, Monserrat Program, learning to learn, counseling, case management, tutoring and on-campus housing for all four years.

Challenges for OTE

It is a continued challenge to ensure that students maintain the connection with the center. Supporting students through the financial challenges and expectations of a private education. Navigating the negative perceptions of the reasons why the students were accepted into the program. Family and other external pulls have always been an area of challenge. The challenging climate that exists in general for students who come from these types of backgrounds.

Moving Forward

We plan to enhance our first year success seminar and continue to share stories about the success of OTE students to help create understanding in the university community. As well as, maintain close collaboration with all of our university partners.

The Webinar

Watch recorded Webinars and read recent eBooks

Watch Webinar: High Impact Efforts: Using cohorts to support first generation students

About the Presenter

Dr. Inés Maturana Sendoya has been Director of the Thea Bowman AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American) and Intercultural Center (BAIC) since February 2006. In that capacity she oversees the operations of the Office and the array of academic and social support services specifically designed to address the needs of AHANA students. She joined Boston College in June 2002 as Associate Director of BAIC. Before joining Boston College she was Undergraduate Program Director and Director of the Educational Opportunities Program in the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Maturana Sendoya has a doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a master's degree in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University and a bachelor's in Modern Languages from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. She is fluent in Spanish, English and French. Dr. Maturana Sendoya is from Colombia and has lived in the United States for over 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys watching Korean dramas, Indian movies and Colombian soap operas with her husband. She also loves to make jewelry and practices yoga.

Tyler L McClain

Assistant Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Dallas, TX